By a margin of 53-38 percent, residents of this state now support marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples. The pro-gay majority represents a 14-point gain in sentiment on behalf of same-sex marriage in just two years. A poll conducted in March 2004 found the state nearly evenly divided, with 47 percent voicing support for gay marriage and 46 saying they were opposed.
The poll, conducted by Global Strategy Group in March, surveyed 658 randomly-dialed telephone numbers and had a relatively small margin of error, plus or minus 3.8 percent.
Empire State Pride Agenda
“New Yorkers have been thinking through this issue for three years now,” said Alan Van Capelle, the Pride Agenda’s executive director, referring to the time period since the November 2003 ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court finding in favor of gay marriage in that state and the subsequent stepped-up debate nationwide. “They’ve seen our families; they know we’re in loving, committed relationships and that many of us are raising children. They’ve heard how our families are harmed by the discriminatory denial of marriage and they’re moving to support us.”
The good polling news comes at a critical time in the march toward same-sex marriage in New York State. On May 31, the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest, will hear oral arguments in at least four cases seeking recognition of same-sex marriage. The pro-gay position will be argued by Lambda Legal, which won a trial level ruling in favor of gay marriage in February 2005, only to see it overturned on an appeal by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
In this year’s gubernatorial campaign, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, a same-sex marriage supporter, is the odds-on favorite for the Democratic nomination, and has consistently led in match-ups against any of his prospective Republican opponents. If the marriage lawsuits fail at the Court of Appeals, the push for marriage will shift to the state Legislature in Albany in 2007.
The growing support for gay marriage in New York mirrors a similar trend nationwide, though the Empire State, along with several other Northeastern states, are currently ahead of the curve.
A survey of 1,405 adults conducted nationwide March 8-12 by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found that while 51 percent of Americans oppose legalizing same-sex marriage, that number has declined from 63 percent in February 2004, when opposition spiked significantly in the wake of the Massachusetts court ruling.
A record 39 percent of Americans support gay marriage today.
Those “strongly opposing” gay marriage has fallen from 42 to 28 percent during that period and even among Republicans such intense opposition has declined from 59 to 41 percent. White, evangelical Protestants remain the only major demographic group in which a majority continues to “strongly oppose” marriage equality.
A Zogby poll taken in New Jersey in February showed support for gay marriage in the Garden State even stronger than in New York. In California, support for same-sex marriage is up to 44 percent, according to the latest Field Poll. The lag there behind Northeastern states is surprising, but the numbers show an enormous advance from 1997 when 45 percent of Californians said “homosexual relations” are “always wrong,” with only 38 percent seeing nothing wrong with them at all.
It may be that the proximity of New York and New Jersey to Massachusetts explains part of the advance here. Attitudes toward gay marriage have improved enormously since same-sex unions began there in May 2004. At that time, the state Legislature had a majority that supported a 2006 referendum to overrule the pro-gay court decision. Last year, however, the new Legislature elected in November 2004 resoundingly turned back the referendum proposal on its second hearing. Marriage advocates in Massachusetts have won every single open legislative contest since the marriage ruling, including a number of special elections, and have also defeated several anti-gay incumbents.
In Massachusetts, supporting gay marriage is simply good politics.
In that vein, the Pride Agenda/ Global Strategy Group poll found that 26 percent of voters would be more likely to vote for a state senator or assemblymember who supports marriage equality, while for another 42 percent the issue makes no difference to their vote. Conversely, 45 percent of voters are less likely to support a legislator who votes to block gay marriage through a Defense of Marriage statute, and another 30 percent would give candidates no credit for doing so. A DOMA is a negative or a wash for a full 75 percent of voters in New York.
The Pride Agenda will host a community meeting on winning freedom to marry on Wednesday, April 19, with the participation of the American Civil Liberties Union, the New York Civil Liberties Union, Freedom to Marry, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, Lambda Legal, Mano a Mano, the National Black Justice Coalition, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the National Latino/a Coalition for Justice, and the LGBT Community Center. The meeting will run from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Community Center, 208 West 13th Street in Manhattan.